Linda: In June, Candice announced at she was so unhappy in the marriage that she was planning to leave. Jackson was blind-sighted by her announcement. He had no idea that her level of dissatisfaction had moved into the deal-breaker zone. Jackson thought that the nature and frequency or their arguments was in the normal range, certainly not in the danger zone. All of their friends were in shock when they separated. Candice and Jackson had presented the image of the idea happy couple, but behind the image, there was something very rotten.
In the couples’ counseling session, when I inquired of Candice how long she had been unhappy in the marriage, she announced that she had been dispirited for five of their twelve years together. She claimed that she had let Jackson know that his angry outbursts upset her, but despite her protests, nothing changed.
Jackson was hearing her now and for the next three months made a valiant effort to curb his angry outbursts. But by this point, Candice was toxic from so much angry fighting that she was unwilling to give the marriage a chance to recover from the damage it had sustained. Candice had passed the point of no return.
In August, she moved into a condo, bought all new furniture and a dog. The explanation she gave her family and friends was “Jackson has a really awful temper and it’s never going to get any better, so I had to leave.” Jackson’s explanation to his family and friends was, “This separation came completely out of the blue. She has been faking me out for years, pretending that our marriage was O.K. when it wasn’t. She never let on how unhappy she was. I had no idea she was planning to break up our family.”
There is some truth to each of their explanations. They are both right, but only have a piece of the truth. Jackson is correct that his soon to be ex-wife did not communicate to him in a way that got his attention. Candice did not share her deep dissatisfaction and thoughts about divorce early enough and clearly enough to give them a chance to solve their difficulties And there is some truth to Candice’s claim that Jackson didn’t listen very well. But neither of them are complete victims. Candice did go along, silencing herself on numerous occasions to get along, accumulating resentment and evidence in a thick file to justify leaving. By the time Candice had his attention and he pledged to make substantive changes, it was too late.
And Jackson did not listen very well to his wife’s complaints. What he considered to be garden-variety upsets on her part, were much more severe disappointments and dissatisfaction than he had any idea. Both members of this former couple have a great deal to learn about effective speaking and committed listening.
Neither one of them is to blame for the breakup of their family. And they are both responsible. It is sad that neither of them had the opportunity to explore the untapped potential of their marriage. Perhaps they could have broken through their impasse to co-create a vital fulfilling partnership with each other. Hopefully the pain that results from the huge life trauma of their separation and divorce will be enough to motivate them both to learn from their experience. Both speaking and listening are critical ingredients in long-term successful partnership. Some people have to learn the very hard way. These two certainly did. Hopefully others can learn from the cautionary tale of Candice and Jackson.
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